Thursday, 15 October 2009
Having announced my return to blogging, I realised that posting today would be tricky: I usually go straight to church (from school) on Thursdays for Benediction. Contrary to popular belief (mostly among schoolchildren) teachers do not get to go home at 3:30pm. I'm usually at school until 5:30pm - 6pm, getting turfed out by the premises staff. Since Benediction starts at 8pm, and I usually help to open the church and prepare things, there isn't much point in my going home.
Sometimes I grab a portion of chips en route, and sit in the car (in the church car park) munching while listening to the radio.
This can be a bit of a mistake. Radio 4 has an anti-Catholic bias which is often bad for my blood pressure.
Having noted the phenomenon of St. Thérèse's relics attracting thousands of the faithful (and the not-so-faithful), the BBC decided that it was impossible to avoid comment, though they really had tried. But, since they had to say something, they made sure it was a disparaging reference to superstitious practices which many ordinary Catholics find quite embarrassing.
The reality, which I was privileged to observe for myself at Aylesford, was quite, quite different.
Ordinary people actually want to venerate the relics of the saint. There is a visceral "pull" - a real need to establish a physical connection as well as a spiritual one. That's what I love about the Catholic Church - she has always known that we are body and soul, and we need the physical side of our natures represented in our devotions: so we have medals, pictures, relics, bells, chants, incense, stained glass. It's real. It's touchable... and, as I discovered, once people realised that they were allowed to touch the relics, they couldn't stay away.
I did not go to Aylesford to see a miracle. I didn't expect to experience transports of joy, or any intense feelings. I went to venerate the relics of a saint, someone who has finished her earthly journey and achieved the ultimate goal: she is now in the presence of God and enjoys the Beatific Vision. She is, therefore, someone I want to emulate.
And, judging from the sheer number of people who have gone to see the relics of St. Thérèse around the country, I am not alone in this. Maybe a few people have gone out of idle curiosity. That's not a sin, and it's not to be discouraged, either: didn't Jesus himself say "Come and see" to some of his first disciples? And perhaps a few people have gone in the hope of experiencing a miracle. Miracles do happen, but only if you ask for them! The reason we see so few miracles, I am sure, is that people limit their prayers to what they believe is possible, and don't dare to ask for anything more.
I think this is what I have gained from venerating St. Thérèse's relics: the idea that I need to pray more trustingly, and more insistently, like a child who expects its parents to provide everything it needs and wants, and so just asks.
Two other very moving accounts from friends who venerated the relics at Westminster: Leutgeb has written her report in two parts (First and Second), and Patricius has also written a post.
And I want to include a message for Elizabeth: the relics are, as far as I can ascertain, the saint's femur (thigh bone) and some of the bones from her foot... I don't know what happened to the rest of her leg!